The Very Best Of

Ranking HIMYM’s Thanksgiving episodes

How That ’70s Show and How I Met Your Mother are the same show
(Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

How I Met Your Mother produced an impressive five Thanksgiving episodes in its nine-year run. (It also had one more whose titled played on the occasion’s name, but otherwise does not qualify.)

Among contemporary live-action sitcoms, only four have matched or exceeded that output. The peerless Modern Family was also 5-for-9 on this front going into this season, its 10th.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine churned out five Thanksgiving episodes on Fox, and may have more when its NBC transfer takes effect. New Girl and The Middle claim six and nine November holiday specials, respectively.

Each of those shows are either still running or wrapped up earlier this year. Conversely, HIMYM is marking the fifth anniversary of its farewell campaign in 2013-14. As such, this week is an appropriate time to see how its Thanksgiving specials hold up.

Character introductions, character development and storyline development carry the most weight in these rankings. A healthful dose of emotion and relative happiness by episode’s end are a plus.

5. “Belly Full of Turkey”
This first-season episode’s long-term test of the viewers’ memory is its topmost highlight. The Bob Saget Ted teases his audience by briefly implying that the eventual mother is a stripper named Tracy. Naturally, the name will resurface for a significant reason eight years later.

That little seed-planting gesture caps the Ted/Robin/Barney plot. Meanwhile, nine episodes into their engagement, Lily and Marshall spend Thanksgiving with the latter’s family in Minnesota.

While there is nothing wrong with splitting up the gang for two storylines in two settings, the dynamic is somewhat limiting. At such an early stage in the series, it would have been more intriguing to see how the core quintet handles the holiday for the first time since coming together.

In addition, Lily and Marshall break up and make up between Thanksgiving 2005 and Thanksgiving 2006. Given that rollercoaster, depicting the Eriksens on the latter occasion could have afforded the gathering more comedic fodder.

4. “Blitzgiving”
Reeling off that last note, few situations in Thanksgiving specials are safer bets than a chaotic crowd. This sixth-season episode lays that groundwork with a pair of familiar faces from dramas on other networks.

Jorge Garcia, coming off of ABC’s Lost, joins the gang’s dinner party as the pre-anointed butt of all jokes. Jennifer Morrison, then a recent castoff from Fox’s House, is Ted’s rotating love interest and sworn enemy.

For this storyline, Morrison’s Zoey leans toward the latter role. As such, her presence exacerbates Ted’s unexpected and untimely trip and fall into Steve’s (Garcia) unfortunate position.

3. “The Rebound Girl”
The cliffhanger bridges us into an emotional rollercoaster of a Christmas episode. Robin’s storyline would pick back up two weeks after this episode, capping off 2011.

In that sense, given that the sudden passing of Marshall’s father starts the calendar year and Lily’s pregnancy ends Season 6, this Thanksgiving episode feeds into a timely, tumultuous bookend.

Robin’s scare makes comedy a taller order, particularly with Ted and Barney’s scheme to adopt as faux-gay fathers. That might have been easier to laugh at if it were not juxtaposed with the heavy sidebar.

But the gang’s holiday hosts, Lily and Marshall, offer genuine relief, particularly with the Ghostbusters reference.

2. “Slapsgiving”
HIMYM’s second season was the first without a Thanksgiving-themed episode. In its stead, the last episode to premiere before the holiday in 2006 establishes the “Slap Bet” gag.

Intentionally or not, the program revisited the bit precisely 52 weeks later for its second Thanksgiving episode. By that point, the victorious Marshall had already administered two of his slaps to Barney. He vows to deliver the third by the end of dinner, which is also the first the five core characters share in the series’ chronicles.

Best of all, when he deals the blow, Marshall adds a harmless little insult to Barney’s miniscule injury. Seven months after Forgetting Sarah Marshall hit theaters, Jason Segel shows there is more where “Dracula’s Lament” came from in this episode.

As for Segel’s character, his song promptly brings everyone together around the piano. This grants Ted and Robin a diversion from their awkwardness, and even Barney joins in the singing as he recovers.

1. “Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap”
Two seasons of Get a Life were evidently not enough for Chris Elliott. Likewise, one merger of Thanksgiving and the Slap Bet was too good not to have a sequel two seasons later. Together, the guest star’s archetypal character, the holiday and the running gag combine for a succulent sitcom turducken.

In his debut as Mickey Aldrin, father of Lily, Elliott emerges as an apparent alter-ego of Chris Peterson. His unwelcome invitation via the easygoing Marshall sets off one of two intersecting plots in the Aldrin-Eriksen household.

The other plot picks up on Barney’s slap-based debt to Marshall while the gag is still fresh. To lace it with new flavor, it incorporates the rest of the gang by evoking the past year-plus in Ted and Robin’s lives. Their initial generosity soon devolves into classic holiday stress-induced tension, ensuring they are not left out of what Lily, Mickey and eventually Marshall share.

All the while, Barney’s anguished anticipation sweetens the episode-long delay of the title action. It pays off when Marshall, having overseen and witnessed everyone else’s reconciliation, pounces the moment Barney lets down his guard.

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Al Daniel

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